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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-11

Matthew 4:1-11. The Temptation (Mark 1:12 f.*, Luke 4:1-13*).—Jesus' sudden recognition of His Sonship or Messiah-ship and of the responsibility thus laid upon Him, found natural expression in His retirement into solitude. In the dreary wilderness of Judæa (p. 31), which overhangs the north of the Dead Sea, He grapples with the problem of what is involved in being God's Son, of how the Messiah must do God's will. The narrative is taken (as in Lk.) from Q. There are three episodes, each containing a proposed course of action and a Scriptural reason for its rejection. The second and third scenes are transposed in Lk., but Mt. probably preserves the original order. Both Mt. and Lk., like Mk., lay stress on the impulse of the Spirit, and mention the forty days as preceding the three episodes, though Lk. (like Mk.) makes the whole period one of temptation, and adds that, when all was over, the devil left Him only "for a season." Curiously, Lk. omits any reference to angelic succour.

Attempts have been made to trace the story to the influence of the temptation-narratives of earlier heroes like Abraham and Job, or even of Buddha or Zoroaster. Others find its source simply in the belief that one of the functions of the Messiah was to overthrow Satan; others again regard it as a summary in imaginative form, placed in the forefront of the Gospel, of the temptations which Jesus met in the course of His ministry (cf. Mark 8:31-33, John 6:15, Luke 22:28). There is no need for any of these assumptions, though the experience serves as an epitome of Jesus' ideals, motives, and heroism throughout His ministry. The historicity of the narrative is guaranteed by its fitness at this point, and by the agreement of its significance with the purpose and method of Jesus. The story, which illustrates His supreme skill as a teacher, must have come from Jesus Himself, perhaps in the days that followed Peter's confession at Csarea Philippi. In similar fashion Isaiah had, some time after the experience itself, communicated to his disciples his vision in the Temple "in the year that king Uzziah died (Isaiah 6)."

Hungry, and with no apparent means of getting food, Jesus is confronted with the proposal to satisfy His need by turning stones into bread (cf. Matthew 7:9). This would be a natural and reasonable use of the power associated with His new office. But the proposal ignores the eternal truth that man is spirit, and that his life is sustained by other food than bread (Deuteronomy 8:3). We must not overlook the "If" of the temptation. The truth of the revelation of the Sonship might so easily be tested. Jesus repudiates the spurious test and chooses the real, i.e. the perfect obedience, in which God's earlier "son" Israel had failed. Cf. John 4:34.

The background of the second proposal is the popular apocalyptic Messianic hope. It finds its parallel in the later demand of the Pharisees for a sign (Matthew 12:38 ff., Matthew 16:1 ff.; John 2:18), some manifest supernatural proof of the Messiah's credentials. "If thou art the Messiah, cast thyself down; angels will shield thee from harm." The Messiah is to descend on the clouds of heaven; do this, as it were, and show that you have a charmed life. But in Jesus' view man has no right, even if he has the power, to force the hand of God. The Divine protection is promised not to the presumptuous, but to the ordinary wayfarer who sets his love and trust on God. Jesus rejects the temptation to attain quick popularity and success by unfair means. The "pinnacle of the Temple" was only visited in thought, and may have been suggested to Jesus as He stood on the edge of some cliff in the wilderness. But cf. the way in which Ezekiel (Ezekiel 8:3) was carried about by the hand of the Spirit.

Nor does the third proposal take us out of the desert. Luke 4:5 says nothing of a mountain; spiritual or mental exaltation is quite sufficient. On some rocky summit with a far-reaching view comes the suggestion to broaden the field of Messianic service by laying aside the spiritual ideals which had already taken shape in Jesus' mind. But to secure the dominion of the earth on such terms would be virtually to worship Satan. "To seek sovereignty for the sake of sovereignty without waiting for God's hour, to share the interests and the passions of the world, . . . to aim at an ordinary royalty and adopt the means that might lead to it, human policy, cunning, and violence, would be to abandon the cause of God for that of the devil" (Loisy).

M'Neile summarises thus: "The first temptation is to doubt the truth of the revelation just received, the second to test it, and the third to snatch prematurely at the Messiahship which it involves." Thus in each case the temptation turns on the consciousness of being called to the Messianic office. In each case the struggle was between the popular conception of that office and man's supreme allegiance by which even the Messiah is bound. The conflict and its issues are in true accord with the years of preparation in Nazareth and the consecration to the Kingdom consummated in the baptism, and with the subsequent life of Jesus. It marked the accomplishment of an abiding and absolute harmony between His fellowship with God and His conception of the Messiahship.

Dr. Peake has kindly supplied the following note: The primary purpose of the first two temptations is to undermine the conviction of Sonship, and, this having failed, the third seeks to set the mission of Jesus on wrong lines. The first two are brought into the same category by the common formula, "If thou be the Son of God." Reaction follows on the radiant ecstasy of conviction, the critical intellect is tempted to doubt the reality of the experience. Everything depended in His future work on the certainty of His Divine Son-ship; it was this, then, that must be tested beforehand to the uttermost. "Abandoned by God and on the edge of death, can you be Gods Son? Perhaps, but in a matter so momentous make sure. If you are God's Son, you will have miraculous power; turn the stone into a loaf and the prodigy will reaffirm your conviction, and incidentally preserve you for your mission." The plausibility of the suggestion masked its fatal character. Jesus detects its subtlety. To work a miracle that He might reassure Himself would imply that He had already begun to doubt; the mere acceptance of the challenge would have involved defeat. Humanly speaking, death by hunger stares Him in the face. But He remains absolutely sure of His Sonship, and therefore of His preservation to fulfil His task. He stakes Himself and His destiny not on physical nourishment, but on the word of God. And this is not for Him just a vague generality, it has a very definite application. The word of God He has in His mind is the word He has heard by Jordan. The word of His Father, the witness of the Spirit to His Son-ship—on these His absolute conviction is based, in spite of all that contradicts it. And, as a loyal Son, He leaves Himself and His fate in the Father's hands; on His vigilant watchfulness He utterly depends, From this dependence the second temptation starts, but exaggerates it into a presumptuous dependence which would force God's hand (see above). But here also the primary intention is to commit Jesus to a test which implies doubt. The result of both is that the conviction of Jesus remains impregnable. The attack on this is abandoned, and the third temptation is aimed at reducing His work to a failure by inducing Him to lower His ideal, and accept a political Messiah-ship, to gain a swift but worthless success (see above). Jesus leaves the wilderness unshaken in His conviction, unswerving in His loyalty to the loftiest ideal. Cf. p. 662.

Matthew 4:2. forty days: cf. Moses (Exodus 24:18) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), and the forty years of Israel in the desert (Deuteronomy 8:2).

Matthew 4:5. pinnacle: lit. "wing," therefore some projecting turret or buttress rather than a spire or summit.

Matthew 4:9. Jesus shared the common opinion that the world of His day lay in the grasp of Satan. Messiah's task was to break his power and restore the Divine sovereignty.

Matthew 4:11. The victor receives the food and the angelic succour which He had refused when they involved sin.


Verses 12-17

Matthew 4:12-17. Jesus Announces the Kingdom in Galilee (Mark 1:14 f.*, Luke 4:14 f.)—More precisely than Mk., Mt. gives John's arrest by Herod Antipas as the reason why Jesus began to preach. Galilee was part of Antipas' realm, but it was remote from the scene of John's work and imprisonment, hence perhaps the word "withdrew." Mt. anticipates Jesus' settlement at Capernaum in his desire to work in a fulfilment of one of his Messianic testimonia. "Galilee (lit. the district) of the nations" was a tract in the old tribal territory of Naphtali, which had a large heathen population. It gave its name to the larger (NT) Galilee. Isaiah 9:1 f.*.

Matthew 4:13. Capernaum: either the modern Khn Minyeh or (more probably) Tell Hm, close to the northernmost point of the Lake of Galilee. Cf. p. 29, and Mark 1:21*. Jesus made it "his own city" (Matthew 9:1).

Matthew 4:17. From that time: cf. Matthew 16:21, where the phrase introduces the period of private instruction to the disciples.


Verses 18-22

Matthew 4:18-22. The Call of the First Disciples (Mark 1:16-20*; contrast Luke 5:1-11 and John 1:35-51). Cf. p. 665.—The account is almost identical with that in Mk., except that Mt. omits the mention of the "hired servants" left with Zebedee. He also transfers Mk.'s "straightway" from the call of Jesus to the response of the brothers.


Verses 23-25

Matthew 4:23-25. Summary of Work in Galilee (cf. Mark 1:39, Luke 4:44).—Mt. here departs from Mk.'s order; he is about to give an account of the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 4:5-7) before an account of His healings (Matthew 8:1-17). Cf. the résumé at Matthew 9:35. The note of good tidings omitted in Matthew 4:17 (Mark 1:15) is here (Matthew 4:23) introduced. The cures are confined to the people, Jews. The legend of king Abgar of Edessa and his correspondence with Jesus is based on the mention of Syria (Matthew 4:24).

Matthew 4:25. Decapolis.—Certain Hellenised towns, originally ten in number (hence the name), all, except Scythopolis, lying E. of Jordan. For purposes of trade and to guard against absorption by their Semitic neighbours they formed a league, but were subjugated by Alexander Jannæus (104-78 B.C.). Pompey in 64-63 B.C. gave them municipal freedom and other rights, but brought them into the Roman province of Syria, whence some of them were later transferred to the direct authority of Herod. Cf. p. 33.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Matthew 4:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/matthew-4.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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